The Supreme Court began Hilary term sittings this week. Jones v Kaney [2010] EWHC 61 (QB), concerning the immunity of expert witnesses in civil litigation proceedings from negligence claims, was heard over two days from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The European Court of Human Rights has handed down judgment in Ali v United Kingdom (Application no. 40385/06, 11 January 2011), concerning the exclusion of pupils from schools and the right to education. The decision is the final installment of the litigation which culminated at the domestic level in the judgment of the House of Lords in Ali v Lord Grey School [2006] UKHL 14. The European Court upheld the conclusion of the House of Lords that no violation of the right to education had occurred, but provided general guidance on the content of the right to education and the compatibility of exclusion measures with that right.

Questions were raised over the role of undercover officers in investigations, after the trial of six green campaigners collapsed when an undercover policeman who had infiltrated their group offered to give evidence on their behalf. The six were charged with conspiring to shut down the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham in 2009. The case was due to start on Monday, but was abandoned after Pc Mark Kennedy contacted the defence team to say he would be prepared to help them.

A campaign against legal aid cuts was launched on Wednesday, with a lobby event organized by Justice For All. In conjunction with the event the forum MyLegal has been inviting legal aid lawyers and their clients to write about how the service has helped them.

The Law Commission has launched a consultation on marital property agreements. This reviews the current law of marital property agreements, discusses options for reform and puts forward questions for consultees.  The consultation closes on 11 April 2011.

Nick Clegg has outlined the coalition plans on civil liberties. His speech last Friday covered a wide range of civil liberties issues, but the proposals regarding control orders received most attention. The Deputy Prime Minister promised to end virtual house arrest but stated that no agreement had been reached yet on what restrictions would be bought into replace them. Negotiations are continuing in Whitehall, but it is clear that the result will be a compromise that is unlikely to satisfy either side of the debate. On the same day as Clegg’s speech the Ministry Of Justice revealed plans to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to open up government and other bodies to public scrutiny. The plans will apparently make it easier for people to use FOI to find and use information about the public bodies.

The coalition’s more progressive stance on civil liberties in general will be of little comfort to Ed Woolard, the student who admitted throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of Millbank Tower during November’s tuition fee protests. He has been sentenced to 32 months in jail by a judge who warned those who abuse the right of peaceful protest to expect lengthy custodial sentences

Labour has managed to hold on to the seat in Oldham East, after by-election following the unseating of MP Phil Woolas. Woolas lost his seat after two high court judges ruled that he told lies about his Liberal Democract opponent Watkins during last May’s general election. Woolas, who defeated Watkins by 103 votes, had claimed his Lib Dem opponent had “wooed” Islamic extremists. The by-election saw Labour’s majority increase, as Debbie Abrahams won with a majority of more than 3,500.

The shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has prompted a debate over free speech and the ‘vitriolic’ tone of current American politics. Commentators have suggested that Gifford’s shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was encouraged by the aggressive rhetoric of political movements such as the Tea Party, and in particular a campaign map showing Giffords’ electoral district in the cross hairs of a gun. Sarah Palin hit back against these accusations, stating opponents had manufactured a ‘blood libel’ against her.